10 weird superstitions and their surprising origins

Make sure all containers in the room you are reading this are tightly sealed, or you'll be cursed with nightmares for the next three years.

Black cats. Walking under ladders. Opening umbrellas indoors. Broken mirrors. Throughout history and across the world, superstitions have crept their way into the human consciousness.

Here are some you probably haven’t heard of. But first…make sure all containers in the room you are reading this are tightly sealed, or you will be cursed with nightmares for the next three years. No? Okay…but you’ve been warned…

Evil spirits lurk in brussels sprouts

Have you ever noticed someone cut a cross-shape in a stalk of Brussels sprouts before cooking them? Your mom might tell you it helps the sprouts cook better. But she’s wrong. Your dear mother is probably unsuspectingly practicing a superstition from the medieval period.

You see, medieval people believed that evil spirits hid between the leaves of lettuces, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. The evil spirits can then make someone ill when they consume these vegetables. Cutting a cross mark on every sprout or cabbage is therefore a scientific way to counter the magic of these bad vegetable spirits.

Seven years of bad luck if you break a mirror

The belief that breaking a mirror leads to seven years of bad luck has its roots in ancient Roman beliefs, as they were the first to create glass mirrors. The ancient Romans believed that mirrors had the power to capture a part of a person’s soul when they looked into it. Therefore, breaking a mirror could cause the soul to be corrupted, especially if the reflection appeared distorted.

The Romans also believed that a person’s soul renewed itself every seven years. Breaking a mirror was thought to interrupt this cycle, causing the person to experience seven years of misfortune.

The belief in the power of mirrors to capture a person’s soul has persisted throughout history and is found in many cultures, but the specific association of breaking a mirror with seven years of bad luck is largely a product of ancient Roman superstition.

Unlucky “13”

Many high-rise buildings skip the number 13 and go straight to 14 when numbering floors, which is why many elevators have no 13th floor. The practice stemmed from the belief that the number 13 was a bad omen.

Why? There were 13 people at Last Supper…and we all know how that ended. Some people have such an obsessive fear of the number 13, it is a known phobia called triskaidekaphobia.

Never give a wallet or purse as a gift without including some money in it

In many cultures, it is believed that giving someone an empty wallet or purse as a gift is bad luck because it symbolizes a lack of wealth and prosperity. To avoid this, it is customary to include some money or a small gift inside the wallet or purse before giving it as a gift.

Knock on wood

Do you say “knock on wood” when referring to a positive possible future outcome, the intent being so as not to jinx it? This practice is the oldest and most prevalent superstition that still exists today. It came to be because wood was believed to possess tree spirits, which had the power to protect against evil or demons. To absorb a little of that good guy tree people magic and prevent the evil spirits from jinxing one’s success, people literally touched wood.

You should never gift a watch, as it is believed to symbolize the end of a relationship

Giving a watch as a gift because it symbolizes the passing of time and the eventual end of a relationship. This superstition may have originated from the idea that giving someone a watch would be a reminder that time is running out, and that the relationship may not last forever.

Kissing under the mistletoe

The eggnog is aflowin’, the yuletide cheer is in full effect, and you’re trying to lead your crush to that doorway with that special holiday sprig. According to a Norse legend, mistletoe was homage to Frigg, a goddess of love.

It’s a long story but, in a nutshell: Frigg’s son Baldur was prophesied to die. His fearful mother went to each and every plant and animal of the land and obtained a promise from them that they wouldn’t harm him. Well…almost everyone. She overlooked the lowly mistletoe.

You should never wear a wedding dress before the day of the wedding, or you’ll jinx it

According to this superstition, if a bride wears her wedding dress before the actual wedding day, it will bring bad luck and jinx the marriage. This superstition likely originated from the idea that the wedding dress is a sacred symbol of the bride’s purity and innocence, and that wearing it before the wedding would be a violation of that symbolism.

Friday (ultimately meaning ‘Frigg’s Day’) bears her name.

Another Norse god, Loki, was jealous of Baldur’s immortality and killed him with mistletoe. But the gods were able to bring him back to life, and a delighted Frigg promised to kiss anyone underneath the mistletoe. You would think she would feel the most betrayed betrayed by the ‘toe…but looks like that wasn’t the case. Anyhow…that’s why people kiss under the mistletoe.

If you cut your hair during a full moon, it will grow back thicker

There are also some interesting superstitions related to personal care. For example, cutting your hair during a full moon is believed to make it grow back thicker and stronger. This superstition can be traced back to the idea that the moon has a powerful effect on the Earth and all living things. Some people also believe that the full moon is a symbol of growth and abundance, and that cutting your hair during this time will help to promote healthy hair growth.

A bird entering your house is a sign of impending death

In some cultures, it is believed that if a bird enters your house, it is a sign that someone in the household will soon die. This superstition may have originated from the idea that birds are messengers from the spirit world and that their sudden appearance in the home therefore is a warning of impending danger.